Blurred Lines – my personal gripes with Cultural Appropriation (and how I found answers)

I have a real issue with the idea of Cultural Appropriation.

I’m a white American girl with a muddled (mutt) bloodline and no family culture of my own to work within as a pagan. Too often, discussions of cultural appropriation feel uncomfortable to me. For the longest time, I’ve been uncomfortable with that discomfort, because I couldn’t place where it originated from… until yesterday.

I had an “ah ha!” moment.

The reason I don’t like the idea of cultural appropriation is due to the lack of boundaries. When I ask questions to try and determine what is and isn’t cultural appropriation, the best anyone can answer is “well, if you aren’t [fill in a culture name here], then don’t use their stuff”. That’s great… except it’s not. How does that help me to determine if my use of a practice like smudging is valid spiritual expression or lazy cultural appropriation?

Unclear lines to cross (or not cross) make for a huge discomfort in learning new practices. As someone familiar with the privileges being white can afford me, I feel hampered from spiritual exploration by my own desire not to commit an apparent cardinal sin of paganism and appropriate random things from someone else. Without clear direction, I instead get to try new things in private or not at all.

The “ah ha!” moment came to me yesterday while researching and contemplating reconstructionist Greco-Roman religion versus standard Wiccan-flavored paganism*[see footnote]. I finally found the elusive lines between respectful cultural adaptation and cultural appropriation.

Look at the Greek gods. In the ancient religion and its modern reconstruction, Hestia is honored first and last at every ritual. Solitary home practitioners are told to at least light a candle to Her before anything else is done. Hestia is the keeper of the Sacred Flame, the spark of life itself. All of the gods respect Her, so it is fully accepted (and expected) that your first words and offerings be given to Her.

Now look at a modern Wiccan-flavored pagan ritual. Tradition dictates that you call a god and a goddess for most rituals, though moon rituals (esbats) give more leeway in calling just a goddess. If a coven decides to stick with Greek gods, they may choose Zeus and Hera to call into the circle; after all, they are the King and Queen of the Gods. However, that same coven is very likely to call only Zeus and Hera. The altar may have a candle for each, as well as some image or statue. But… the likelihood of Hestia also being represented is actually pretty small.

Modern paganism doesn’t require you to follow the old ways of deity worship. It’s seen as acceptable to research a deity and then work with them alone. No one questions why someone might work with Apollo and ignore his sister Artemis and mother Leto, even though their mythology is very intertwined and nearly impossible to disassociate as a pair or group. It’s not weird to most modern pagans for you to say you work with Artemis because She called to you, yet you don’t interact with anyone else from Her pantheon.

In a way, large portions of how Wiccan-flavored paganism approaches deity worship can be seen as cultural appropriation.

The Greek culture and religion that those deities come from is alive, which means you’re borrowing from an active thing. When doing so, you should be doing enough research to know about Hestia being first and last in all things; even reading through one or two decent sources would tell you that! Choosing to skip her and work with Zeus and Hera alone, then, is purposefully ignoring the cultural and spiritual importance of Hestia to make use of other gods. It’s about convenience, not belief.

However, the line becomes more flexible in certain situations. If you are the type of pagan who believes ALL goddesses are faces of the Goddess, and ALL gods are faces of the God, and ALL gods are One… then your decision to borrow Zeus and Hera is based in your spiritual belief that they only exist as faces of the same thing; you aren’t appropriating them, so much as you are using them in accordance to your non-belief in hard polytheism.

Likewise, doing a meditation in a suana isn’t appropriation of a sweat lodge. Sure, you are using incense and steam to relax and cleanse your body and spirit. However, the idea of meditation is found in many cultures. By calling it a suana meditation and working to connect your Higher Self rather than a deity or spirit guide, you are specifically using the “universal remote” or generally applicable pieces of a sweat lodge without appropriating the full Native American ritual.

See the lines I’ve found?

  • If you know what you’re doing and why, then you aren’t culturally appropriating.
  • If your core beliefs create a place where the thing you’re doing is standard and applied to all related practices, then you aren’t culturally appropriating.
  • If you strip down a cultural idea and use the structural framework (i.e. things that all people, regardless of culture, can relate to) to develop something unique, then you aren’t culturally appropriating.

But… if you just take a thing that “sounds cool” and do very little research into what it’s actually for or about, you ARE culturally appropriating in the laziest way. It’s disrespectful to the gods and yourself.

A final guideline: If it doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t use it. If you feel bad using a thing, examine why you feel that way. Are you honestly sure of your intent? Remember that, in magic, intent is key to everything.

* On Wiccan-flavored paganism: I use this phrase to refer to the modern, New Age paganism movement as a whole. Look in the New Age or Metaphysics section of any bookstore, and you’ll see the same kind of magickal and ritual practice over and over. God and goddess duality, elemental correspondences, altar setup and tools, and so forth. These are all done in generally the same way, with minor variations between traditions and authors. Most non-reconstructionist, non-tradition-based pagans will end up practicing something related to the Wiccan style of ritual, mostly because of its prevelance in the resources a solitary pagan has access to.

An additional note: I am personally guilty of working with deities without doing research into their pantheon, though this has happened most often in group rituals I have little or no control over. The Celtic, Welsh, and/or Gaelic pantheons (I can’t tell the difference due to lack of study) have been present in my coven’s rituals; similarly, I’ve stood in circle while someone called Loa to attend a Samhain ritual via a horse (someone prepared to be “ridden” or purposefully possessed for a short time). I point this out to remind you that no one is perfect, and most offenders aren’t aiming to be offensive. Sometimes you have no control over the ritual at hand, but when you do… try to be fully prepared and respectful of the ideas, practices, and deities you’re including in your circle.

Proudly Oathbound

The new moon of February is here, and it’s a special time. This is the time when, each year, members of my tradition retake their oaths. In my case, that means retaking both my Dedicant and First Degree oaths.

We do this as a reminder. The oaths you make along your path are important, and refreshing them annually reminds you of where you’ve come from, where you’re going, and why you’re traveling in that general direction. It lets you review your path and make changes if you’ve gotten stuck in a rut.

I realized several years ago just how seriously I take oaths, without meaning to do so on a conscious level. When I take an oath (be it a personal dedication to a goddess, a coven oath, or a marriage vow), my spirit takes in the words and treats them almost like the Aes Sedai’s oaths made on the Oath Rod; as they’re sealed onto the women themselves, so my oaths are bound to me.

[[FYI, that’s a Wheel of Time reference… probably one of the only ones I’ll make in my life.]]

Sure, I’m technically capable of ignoring an oath deliberately or accidentally. It’s physically possible for my to actively chose to ignore them. However, I just don’t. Period.

When I left my coven a few years ago, I could’ve stayed within our tradition as an initiate. However, my oaths included a promise not to teach those who were not prepared properly. For me, that meant that teaching my roommate or writing a book that could potentially teach anyone both bent that oath to breaking; it felt wrong in that context, as an oathbound initiate of a tradition. The only solution was to leave the tradition entirely, removing all oaths in the process.

Having returned a year ago to my tradition and coven, I still take my oaths as seriously as I did back then. I feel them in my bones, and they never fail to float through my mind when I consider the same things (teaching a friend, writing a book, and so forth). The difference is that, as someone seeking eventual leadership within our tradition and the pagan community at large, I know I can approach my Elders and ask for guidance regarding any projects or lessons I might want to start. I can verify that my oaths allow my actions, and I can keep my honor intact.

[[Now I’m sounding more like the Aiel. AAHHH! I haven’t read those books since the first time,]. No, seriously! Some things just stick with you, I guess…]]

Actually, this reflects my studies on Asatru and other Norse traditions; in those cultures, your honor is passed down from your ancestors and kept pristine by your honorable behavior. Breaking an oath is dishonorable, the same way breaking a promise during childhood was a betrayal of trust. Neither situation can be easily remedied, because trust and honor can’t be instantly repaired; they will always hold a residue of memory from the breaking.

As I retake my oaths tonight, standing in circle of my own free will, it will serve as a reminder that I am a child of the gods, a seeker, a student and a teacher, and above all else…

I am proudly oathbound.

What great work am I here for? – Spiritual Contemplation

I’ve been thinking about spirituality a lot lately.

Our coven is about to open for new students again, and this time feels special. It’s not so much that I’m expecting anyone in particular to join up, or that I think we’re going to cover a bunch of new ground. Rather, it’s that I feel the difference in me.

I’ve talked about this before. We (humans) are creatures of habit. We are quick to decide the truth about ourselves and then stop looking. My simplified example is your favorite color. Mine was purple when I was little, a reflection of both my love of darker tones and my birth stone. I claimed purple without any thought on every questionaire, every conversation, and every “about me” section on a profile. It wasn’t until I turn 21 or so that I realized it wasn’t true; I liked purple still, but when deciding on a single color to use for something (a new shirt, my profile text, etc.) I chose green. Green was my new favorite color, and I hadn’t even realized it.

Spirituality can be the same, sometimes. We get into this place where we’ve done some serious soul-searching and found some answers… and so we decide that’s it. The truth is A, B, and C – in that order. It comes as a somewhat unpleasant surprise, then, when the Universe tosses everything we think we know about ourselves right out the window, forcing us to start from scratch again.

What does that have to do with our coven opening up for new students?

We call the first year of lessons the Rainbow Year, because we touch on a full spectrum of subjects to give students an overview of paganism in general and more specifically an overview of our tradition. We cover things like pagan history, general practices and beliefs, gods and goddesses, tools, the wheel of the year, and so on.

For years, these lessons have felt more like mindless repetition than an exercise in learning. However, that’s completely my fault. I’ve become complacent in my beliefs, failing to examine and re-examine my path as I walk it. I’ve stopped trying to reach further and deeper when covering those fundamental lessons; instead, I’ve embraced a form of mindless boredom.

I’m done with that.

This year, I’m going to dive into our Rainbow classes as if I’ve never been there before. It’s time to rediscover who I am, who I want to be, and where I’m walking on this path of mine. Some of the new (and terrifying) truths about myself have already come out, turning me into the biggest puzzle I’ve ever faced.

To put the pieces together, I’ve come up with trackers. I’ve been journaling almost daily, with some of it remaining private just to allow the words to flow out completely unfiltered. I’m going to take notes in each class, as if I were attending a college course again; I’m going to combine them and the current notes to create what I’d consider the vital information from each lesson. I’ll be doing research to help with this, seeking out the old and the new to figure out where I stand. Throughout the process, I’ll continue to work on my pagan book project; the writing and reflection from it will fit in nicely with redefining myself.

I’m not letting 2015 go to waste, because this is the first time in a very long time that I’ve faced numbered days to reach a goal. Losing everything I’d had planned for my future lit a fire under my ass. I feel like the Universe has challenged me, again, by taking what I thought I knew about myself and turning it on its head.

What am I?
What do I believe?
What great work am I here for?

Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria – updates on living with hives

I decided to write this post after realizing that it’s been about two weeks since I last wrote about my hives. Having done hours of research myself, I know that every little bit shared has a chance of triggering someone helpful for someone else. That said, here’s my update…

Current Medications/Treatment: 

  • Prednisone – 5 day course of 60mg completed 01/22/2015
  • Benadryl – every 4-5 hours
  • Zantac – twice a day, in the morning and evening
  • Singulair – once in the evening
  • Zyrtec – once in the evening
  • Melatonin – 6mg on work nights, in the evening
  • Vitamin D – 5000IU with dinner
  • Probiotics – a daily yogurt shot, because why not?
  • Petroleum Jelly – topical in the evening

Updated Tests and Results:

I canceled a dermatologist appointment due to icy weather last week, rescheduling to see my local primary care physician (PCP) instead. The dermatologist couldn’t do anything more, as she doesn’t specialize in my type of condition. My PCP reviewed my list of medications, prescribed the prednisone, and sent in a new referral to an allergist/immunologist who specializes in asthma patients.

This referral hits a trifecta of sorts, since the doctor specializes in people just like me: allergy sufferers with asthma and unknown allergy causes. I’ll be seeing her next Friday, list of medications tried (and failed) in hand. I hear this doctor prefers skin tests to blood tests, when it comes to allergies… but she’ll have to adjust. In order to do a skin test, I’d have to remove myself from all of my medications (except the Singulair and vitamins) for a week. A week without allergy meds?!? I can’t make it six hours without something to help with the itching!

Needless to say, I’m going to strongly request blood tests for whatever allergies she thinks I might have. It’ll take longer, since the lab has to process the tests… but I’ll be more comfortable, and that matters more. I have to be able to function, to work and do chores and run errands.

My current condition is mild, compared to the last three months of torture. I have small patches of active rash on places like my chest, back, and thighs; the rest of my skin appears normal and healthy, but it’s still itchy. Petroleum jelly provides some relief, so I recognize that part of my skin itchiness is severe dryness that’s being fixed by moisturization and time.

Oh! DO NOT TRY USING OLIVE OIL! I read somewhere that olive oil could both moisturize the skin and reduce inflammation with its various good properties (especially when connected to eczema problems, supposedly). I tested it on my arm, and all seemed well. A few hours later, I did a full-body coat and let it sit for a bit… only to cause severe dryness all over, as well as an increase to the severity of my existing rashy areas (dryness exacerbated their condition). This is the second and final time I will trust someone else’s eczema treatment recommendations; I had previously tried an apple cider vinegar treatment (a year or so ago) with similar disastrous effects.

Now, even if I found myself rash-free and non-itchy by next Friday, I’d still go to the specialist. I want to know what’s caused this reaction, so I can avoid it in the future. My PCP said she thinks it might be a “perfect storm” rather than one or two allergies. In a perfect storm event, the body is exposed to a bunch of things that, one their own, don’t cause allergic reaction… but together, they overwhelm the senses and cause an allergic reaction as a team. Yay, teamwork? The specialist can more specifically test for mild allergies, the kind that my PCP wouldn’t necessarily count as an allergy in a normal situation.

I’m optimistic, though. It’s nice to avoid greasy goo in the mornings, allowing me to wear whatever clothes I want to work without worrying about stains. I get at least 6-7 hours of sleep most nights, which is improving my mood. I’m finding successful ways to de-stress and re-energize myself. All in all, I feel good (at least compared to October, November, and December).

This is all personal information, and I kind of snicker at the thought of my mom lecturing me on over-sharing. But I have to! There are so many people out there, suffering just like me. If something I’ve done or gone through can help someone else find their treatment or their cure… how could I *not* share?

Random Plans and Pagan Ramblings

Drugs and exhaustion aside, today I’m feeling semi-focused, semi-optimistic, and semi- productive.

I’ve been working on my pagan research and essays today, as we’re really slow at work. I’ve actually completed my comparative theology paper, and my system of magick research is about 98% done (pending the actual use of the spell I wrote for it, and the results thereafter).

My next steps will be to figure out what rituals I’m going to lead, so I can get those completed once again. I’ve decided that, regardless of our pending move in a year and all that jazz, I’d like to try and obtain second degree status this year. I may never reach third, being too far away from everyone to complete whatever needs completing. But it’s a personal pride thing. I was *this close* to the degree before I left the coven, and I know I can do it if I’m up to the task.

I imagine continuing as a distance learner of sorts, but third degree is a bit more complicated. The requirements would be harder to complete from Washington state, even with a couple of other solitary tradition members in the area. You have to teach a class, which I *might* be able to do via Skype. I think you have to lead a group open ritual, outside of the coven; I could probably find a local pagan pride event or CUUPS branch and convince someone to let me lead, given time to get to know the local community. What kind of proof would I need, though?

It gets complicated. I’d love to reach third degree and hive, I really would. I like Equitas Veneficii and what we stand for, and the parts of ritual that are tradition (i.e. have to go along for the ride if I were to hive) are compatible to my practices and preferences. I want to teach, because you learn so much in teaching others. But… I’m not sure where I’ll be standing this time next year, as my move approaches. Will I be able to advance?

I believe we’re allowed to be in other covens/traditions, as long as those groups accept our dual-membership status. I don’t want to leave again; I’d rather take my titles and lessons with me. If I get stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to advance any further, then I’ll just have to find something else. Personally, I’d be happy going to an open circle, like a study group with open rituals. I don’t feel the need for further initiation elsewhere; it wouldn’t complete me as much as following through with EV Trad would. I’m not a title seeker per se, I just want to complete something from start to finish.

Keeping an altar up would be nice, too. I’m just having no luck whatsoever in finding a format and style I enjoy maintaining on a long-term basis. The same goes with regular devotionals; all I know for sure is that daily devotionals are a bit too much. Maybe weekly mini-rituals would help? Or I could do bi-weekly celebrations following the moon phases (new and full)? Those are more easily maintained, because there’s a purpose outside of “hey, I should practice regularly”.

I need to get back on the rune studies. I like runes, and they felt more relatable this time around. However, I’m lacking the focus and drive needed to really study them in-depth at the moment. For my system of magick research, I picked knot/cord magick; coincidentally, the spell I wrote for using it involves concentration and focus. Hehehe! I’m hoping to renew my focus, energies, and interest in runes and further studies; all these meds and sleepless nights are messing with my mojo and my will to DO anything these days!

I’ve gotten good chunks of random info memorized. For example, I know Freyr’s Aett include FUThARKGW – Fehu, Uruz, Thuriaz, Algiz, Raidho, Kenaz, Gifu, Wunjo. Wealth, strength, the thorn, ancestors, something, something, gift, something. Over a month since my last glance, and I remember most of Tyr and Heimdall’s Aettir, along with some of the keywords.

When I threw down the runes and found my stark reality staring back at me, I felt at once both elated and scared. I’ve never had such direct, personal information from tarot; it’s as if the cards have more wiggle room to be gentle and aloof. Like their angles, runes seem sharper and more inclined to direct action, specific details.

I think back to “Sweep” (the book series) and how runes were used there. I almost want to reread them, if I didn’t have other books to read as well. Maybe I will, anyway. In the series, the runes are matched with sounds and colors to symbolize things/people. Wards are cast by drawing runes in glowing light around a house.

I like the physicality of runes, drawn on an item, carved into a talisman, traced with oil on the skin. The fact I can read runes as an alphabet makes them even cooler, because I can use them for both the runic energies and the hidden message aspect of their lettering on a windsill or wall plaque.

By the way, this is how my brain works now (on meds). I’m always on something mind-altering like Benadryl or Zyrtec or melatonin or steroids. I’m finding ways to harness my mind, but a large portion of it turns into herding cats; I just go with it, free-form my writing and journaling efforts, and accept that it may not make sense along the way. I’m not posting some of the stuff, because I haven’t self-filtered the parts that come out weird. While I don’t believe in censorship (that leads to lying by omission), I do prefer a bit of control over the how’s and why’s of sharing. I’ll get around to writing about my goals and all in a public location, but first I need to articulate them in a way that makes sense to me.

Comparative Theology (Round 2): Jediism, Kopimism, and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)

I’ve been putting off my research for comparative theology until now, hoping that my health would improve and make the thought of being in random public places tolerable. I’d been considering a trip to a coworker’s Christian church, as well as the Buddhist temple on the edge of Killeen. That being said, I’m tired of waiting to be healthy enough for travel; I’ve decided to explore some smaller, quirkier paths instead.

The paths I’ve decided to research are Jediism, Ár nDraíocht Féin (Neopagan Druidry), and the Missionary Church of Kopimism. I chose these groups for mixed reasons. Jediism just sounded interesting; I may be a Trekkie, but I like the idea that people can find spirituality in science fiction and fantasy genres. I’ve run across the ADF many times on blogs and sites I’ve visited, but I’ve never really looked into what they practice or stand for. Kopimism is a strange little Swedish church I ran across while googling randomness; I liked the philosophy I saw on Wikipedia, so I decided to dive further.

Jediism – http://www.templeofthejediorder.org/doctrine-of-the-order

Right off the bat, I was intrigued to see how many of the items listed in the Jedi doctrine fit with my own beliefs. They’re reminiscent of the beliefs of Asatru as well, when it comes to protecting others, honor, and wise action. The Temple of the Jedi Order has an elaborate online system for training Novices, and my perusal of their sections made me want to actually follow through and complete them! For example, the first lesson in the Novice level is Myth, and it uses audio/video from Joseph Campbell interviews to discuss the importance of myth. Journaling is key, and I find a strong familiarity in that compared to my own Rainbow Year with the coven.

If I had never heard of Jedis or Star Wars, I might’ve thought this path to be a good fit for myself. The combination of pacifism and activism is well balanced, at least in theory. They talk about equality and protecting others on one hand, then emphasize cautious in over-action on the other. Don’t march off into a fight, choose your battles accordingly, etc. The Force is essentially the same as saying “the Universe”, as both are generally a term explaining the huge interconnected existence we live in. In a way, Jediism reflects parts of animism; you respect the earth, other creatures, and people as they are connected to you and deserving of positive treatment. A few random beliefs unique to Jediism include:

  • Explicit rejection of torture, cruel/unusual punishment, and the death penalty – this isn’t commonly pinned down in religions, as personal views usually take precedent
  • A focus on social and legal justice and equality, including equal rights for women, LGBTQ, and other religions – they distinctly mention the need for separation of church and state
  • Teachings that focus on ideas both secular and spiritual in nature – for example, a Jedi is expected to be patient, understand their limitations, and guard peace in whatever way they can (helping others, using their skills wisely). There are Jedi who use the path as a secular guidance system, focusing on how to better themselves and society through being a good example and through good actions.

I have noticed in my research that they aren’t really ones to use ritual and ceremony for religious expression. They have sermons and meditations, as well as reciting parts of their doctrine or creed. In this way, they’re more similar to small church Christianity and Unitarian Universalism in the act of sharing thoughts and philosophies with the community but practicing most spiritual aspects internally or in private.

Ár nDraíocht Féin – http://www.adf.org

I’ve heard of ADF many times on blogs and forums over the years. Not being particularly drawn to Celtic or Welsh deities, though, I tend to scroll on by and look for whatever I’m actually seeking. That said, ADF is actually a very open pagan path, compared to the more strictly guided path I expected from druidry (old or new).

ADF beliefs encompass many of the usual pagan ideas: spirit is everywhere, religious freedom is a must, and we each hold the power to fix and change the world around us (as opposed to needing intermediaries or supplications to a god/goddess for assistance).

Certain religious/ritual practices are familiar-but-different. Rituals are held with open circles, which are sometimes used by other pagan paths like ours; however, the ADF primarily use open circles rather than using them for open rituals or special circumstances. Another familiar practice is the use of ritual liturgy and special words/prayers in ritual. ADF rituals have several groups they make offerings to, something that aligns with reconstructionist groups like Hellenismos more than with groups like Circle of the Midnight Rose. They offer to poetic inspiration, the Outdwellers (troublesome spirits, asked to leave), kindred, the gods, and so forth; in a way, it reads like an Asatru sumbel, toasting various beings and ancestors in honor of their assistance and ongoing blessings.

The most interesting thing I found with ADF is the inclusion of other pantheons. I’d always assumed (from my skimming online) that ADF rituals were always centered on the Gaelic/Welsh/Celtic pantheons. Instead, I’ve found that they allow for the worship of any pantheon; I ran across ADF-approved Hellenic rituals, calls to Zeus and the like. Wow! The core importance in ritual practice is to follow a basic ADF ritual format, rather than to worship specific deities.

It was weird to find a pagan path that rejects (or at least doesn’t use) the traditional four elements in ritual or beliefs. Instead of earth/air/fire/water, they recognize the three realms of sky, land, and sea. In a way, this is beautiful; it reflects the natural world almost better than the usual elements, as we can more easily see and experience those three realms (directly rather than symbolically). They also reflect scientific reality more directly as solid, liquid, and gas. I’ve heard people add plasma to make the four-element layout fit into scientific measures of reality, but they always seem a little forced.

Missionary Church of Kopimism – http://kopimistsamfundet.se/english/

Kopimism is… interesting. The idea is that all knowledge should be freely copied and shared, allowing mankind to grow and flourish with the all-encompassing access to information. In a way, this idea matches the non-spiritual comments from Aaron Swartz (who posted copyrighted articles from journals so that the often tax-funded research would be accessible to those who paid for it). Now, Kopimi practices believe all restrictions on sharing are bad; laws about copyright and pirating are considered “sinful” as it were, because they infringe on this ideal of information for all.Another key part of Kopimism is the integration of science and religion. Some discuss the seasons as a reflection of the Kopimi (“copy me”) beliefs.

  • Spring is creativity. New life is everywhere (the copying of genes into a new generation).
  • Summer is copying. A seed grows into a plant, and that plant produces copies of itself in a multiplying number on and on. Fertility and sex are both tied to that process.
  • Autumn is collaboration. Harvest is a way of working together, and so is the collaboration to create or complete projects.
  • Winter is quality. It’s a time for reflection, as winter is a time when natural selection weeds out those strong enough to survive through until spring. It shows that only quality DNA will continue to be copied.

As you can see, these beliefs fit modern paganism quite easily; they also match the natural science of the seasons. I found a Kopimist Gospel, a PDF (freely shared, of course) covering the Kopimi ideals. For example, there are seven historical milestones: fire, language, culture, writing, the printing press, science, and the internet. Each served a purpose toward people being able to copy knowledge and move forward, growing as a species in the process. It’s a beautiful way to look at natural selection and human evolution. Look: “A child learns her first words by copying her parents, just like they once did with theirs. The language belongs to all and none, and that is what gives it value. The more a language is shared, the more valuable it becomes for those who share it. ” That totally makes sense!

In a way, Kopimism fits into any broader spiritual practice. While it stands as a religion on its own (at least in Sweden), it recognizes diversity in a way that allows for the adding of parts and rituals from other sources; there’s an entire section in the gospel and various forums on how “the swarm” (i.e. the majority of Kopimists) will accept or reject an addition with time and use/disuse, because religion is meant to change and grow with its practitioners. Now THAT I can stand by! There isn’t a bunch of complaining or arguing over the proper way to be a Kopimi, unlike the “witch wars” of modern paganism.

Overall

These paths are all interesting and unique in their own right, yet all three allow for a practitioner to be both a pagan (Wiccan, Hellenist, witch, etc.) and a member of these paths. Even atheists are welcome, in a fashion, if they feel the philosophies and practices of these paths fit their personal philosophies. None of these paths require an exact belief in deity; instead, they focus on self-discovery, growth, and community support.

There are plenty of similarities between Equitas Veneficii and the above paths. Seeking personal growth, helping others, and a focus on balance/equality fit in nicely with us all. The level of inclusiveness and community supported also matches between the above mentioned paths and EV trad. In ritual, we do differ; EV trad is very much a Wiccan-influenced witchcraft path, compared to the less ritual-heavy elements of Kopimism or Jediism. The ADF have more similarities in their ritual practices, as they hold rituals on the same days and for some of the same reasons as our tradition.

I’d like to explore these paths further over time. In my previous comparative theology research, I was able to use (or attempt) ritual aspects from my chosen paths. In a way, I’ve already done so with Kopimism. I’ve an avid believer in shared experiences and knowledge, so I research and (as they say it) “kopy” information regularly for my own growth and development. Technically, the act of researching and writing this essay (while copying and including the links to my sources) is a form of “kopyacting” or copying something with the intent to continue its existence and make it available to others.

If I were more interested in Star Wars, I’d sincerely consider studying toward apprenticeship within Jediism. While the church isn’t focused on the movies or franchise as a whole, I can’t get past the name and references without my inherent Trekkie bias causing me to wrinkle my nose. The path itself is wonderful, and I might consider revisiting it in the future. If you removed the words “Jedi” and “Force”, everything else was completely familiar and agreeable with my own beliefs and practices.

I might try creating a small ADF-style ritual. Having studied and tested out Asatru previously, the concept of offerings to ancestors and spirits throughout ritual isn’t new; in fact, the hardest part of potentially trying out ADF format is the removal of familiar pieces like the four elements and circle casting. There’s a balance to be struck in feeling like a ritual rather than creating a mild meditation with mead; you’d have to ensure the liturgy and ritual actions fit with whatever focus you’d chosen, in order to make the ritual a cohesive and complete ritual.

As a side note, I find myself more and more inclined to study and try out new practices. It feels like trying on a new outfit at the store. I may not buy it (or buy into the practices long term), but I get a good look at something new and possibly change other aspects of my own practices in the process (like deciding I love to accessorize with infinity scarves, even though I didn’t buy that gorgeous one from Earthbound make out of beads – maybe I prefer thin fabric instead). I’m also a bit of a knowledge dragon, hoarding away tidbits of information without any real expectation of it being directly useful to me, ever.

As I face an approaching move to Washington and the changes that entails, I find myself more focused on figuring out what I want with my life – be it emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. I have a year to work on my path here, before time and distance make me a solitary practitioner of the EV trad. Reflecting on that, I’ve found the desire to return to the point I was teetering on previously, and then I’d like to follow through and seek second degree. Finally.

Growth and change are good!

Paganism and Diversity – a reply

Before reading my reply below, please read the article When is Diversity Too Diverse?” It’s on Witchvox, right on the home page. I was so… upset? disconcerted? disheartened?… by the author’s callous attitude toward mental illness and social diversity that I had to write her a reply. See below:

I thought long and hard about whether or not to write you after reading your article. You had some valid concerns, but your approach seemed more judgmental than empathic. Please hear me out?

Paganism holds a huge diversity of people, because we don’t discriminate. In a world with many wounded people, empowering traditions and practices often draw those who have never been empowered. That includes the mentally ill.

I don’t believe that working with the mentally ill as your “bread and butter” gives you a free pass to label them as “crazies”. As someone suffering from anxiety yourself, you should recognize that even “humorous” mentions of insanity can taint the way people look at those who suffer from life altering issues like anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, etc. I don’t see sympathy or empathy in your article, but instead find myself upset at your lack of tact and understanding.

My own coven requires disclosure of mental illness, but it doesn’t auto-exclude anyone. If a seeker is sincere, our high priestess works with them, often guiding their spiritual growth while assisting them in finding medical assistance. A bipolar student may be accepted with the condition that she see her doctor as scheduled and took her meds; she could be placed on probation if non-compliance became an issue. She could also do amazingly well after the support and love of our local community.

As for the license issue, it is absolutely not abnormal to find adults close to 30 without a license. State laws have changed the way licenses are obtained, requiring driving school if you’re under a certain age. High schools have stopped many driver’s ed programs, leaving people to learn to get around via public transportation and carpooling. It’s a privelege to be freed from that and have access to a license and your own vehicle; as someone who didn’t have a license until age 24, I completely empathize with someone who struggles with getting around with the aid of others.

There is no logic in judging the inclusion of people outside of the norm… in a religion that is outside of the norm. The reason people decide to “flaunt” their other-ness (LGBTQ, pagan, goth/punk, etc.), especially at conventions and festivals, is knowing that they are in sacred space. Those public gatherings are supposed to be judgment-free zones, where community coalesces into a rainbow of differences and similarities. It is just as okay to be “normal looking” as it is to be purple-haired and full-body tattooed. To each their own, if it harms none.

After all, I’m a 28-year-old mousy haired woman who wears blouses and jeggings all the time. I don’t do colorful hair or gaudy jewelry, nor does anything about me even whisper “pagan” unless I purposefully dress the part for ritual. But that’s my decision to look “normal”. I’m also depressed, but that makes me no less of a witch or a human; in fact, my coven is the support system that keeps me going during the hard times.

Acceptance is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s also overrated. Pagans as a lumped-up group are generally accepted (be it begrudgingly sometimes, like here in Texas) thanks to pop cultural updates and social outreach (ever read a Samhain article in a local paper? If not, reach out!). We don’t need to act vanilla or fit in, in order to achieve acceptance. Think of religion like coffee: some people like it black without frills, others like it as a superfrappelappe mocha with extra foam. I’m a latte girl myself, but I don’t police the coffee choices of others; it’s their cup to drink.

I looked at your listing for your group, and you have every right to filter out those who would be a bad fit. We do the same in my circle, because cohesion is important for magical practice. However, I hope you will remember that there are people who, like me, could be sitting at a computer, maybe depressed or too anxiety-filled to go out in public, maybe looking for a connection… only to read about how “crazies” like them just aren’t good for the pagan image. Talk about disheartening!

I love reading articles and blogs from other pagans, hearing different points of view and new practices. And I like your writing style, other than the tone directed at the mentally ill; I’d love to see you write about your experiences, your favorite season, a pagan tool you absolutely adore. Anything!

I know my words won’t necessarily make you think, but I can hope.